'Palme d'Or whisperer': Tiny US distributor Neon wins fifth straight Cannes prize

Neon founder Tom Quinn had worked for years and on multiple films with South Korean director Bong Joon-ho before 'Parasite' (Jerod Harris)
Neon founder Tom Quinn had worked for years and on multiple films with South Korean director Bong Joon-ho before 'Parasite' (Jerod Harris)

A tiny movie distributor founded seven years ago has won at the Cannes Film Festival for a stunning fifth consecutive time on Saturday.

Neon, a New York-based indie movie outfit, has been dubbed "the Palme d'Or whisperer", for a track record that turns the world's most powerful movie producers green with envy.

"Parasite", "Titane", "Triangle of Sadness" and "Anatomy of a Fall" -- the last four winners in Cannes -- were all released in US theatres by Neon, under deals struck before they won the prize.

And they did it again on Saturday with "Anora", US indie director Sean Baker's raw and often-hilarious story about a New York erotic dancer who strikes gold with a wealthy client.

"Palme d'Or X five. Merci, Cannes," the company posted on social media, adding a photo of five-time NBA basketball champion Kobe Bryant.

Neon purchases -- and more recently, has produced -- movies that it then distributes to theatres, as well as running marketing and awards campaigns for the films.

It bought North American rights to "Anora" weeks before Cannes kicked off, in a move that will now only accelerate the company's soothsaying reputation.

Last week, just days after its director secretly escaped from Iran, Neon also snapped up "The Seed of the Sacred Fig", which won a special jury prize on Saturday.

That film -- about a family's struggles amid political unrest in Tehran -- was made by Mohammad Rasoulof, who fled an Iranian prison sentence for "collusion against national security" days before Cannes kicked off.

- Weinstein, Chan -

Neon founder Tom Quinn had spent decades working in indie films with producers including Harvey Weinstein, before deciding to branch out on his own.

In 2016, he struck a deal with China's Sparkle Roll Media, fronted by screen legend Jackie Chan.

Their first film was "Colossal", an oddball sci-fi starring Anne Hathaway.

Neon was officially launched the following year. Critical success soon came with ice-skating comedy "I, Tonya", which won an Oscar for star Allison Janney.

Following the election of Donald Trump as United States president, Chinese investors swiftly departed, replaced by Texas billionaire Dan Friedkin.

But film-buying remained in the hands of Quinn, who had worked for years and on multiple films with South Korean director Bong Joon-ho.

"It didn't matter what he was going to do next -- it was going to be a Neon film," Quinn said in a recent interview.

"We were going to go for broke, and pre-buy it," he told "The Town" podcast.

That film turned out to be "Parasite", the stunning, genre-hopping drama about a poor family infiltrating a rich family's home, which became a sensation.

Not only did it win the Palme d'Or in 2019, but it went on to become the first non-English-language film to win best picture at the Oscars.

Since then, Cannes has proven to be a happy hunting ground for Neon, which has grown to around 55 staff.

Neon bought body horror "Titane" almost two years before it won the 2021 Palme d'Or.

And the company won bidding wars for both "Triangle of Sadness" and "Anatomy of a Fall" immediately following their Cannes premieres, but before the prizes were unveiled.

Named after an ephemeral gas that glows when captured inside a glass tube, the company caught lightning in a bottle again Saturday.